In Business and in Life, Confidence Shapes Postive Outcomes
Is success simply a matter of money and talent? Or is there another reason why some people and organizations always land on their feet, while others, equally talented, falter? Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration at Harvard,Book answers this question in her latest
book—Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End
(Crown Business, $27.50).
Drawing on interviews with individuals from the business, government, nonprofit and sports worlds, she shows how confidence shapes outcomes and how people rise to the occasion when their leaders help them gain the confidence to do so. Kanter, an adviser and consultant to corporations, countries, school systems and community organizations, has written such groundbreaking books as Men and Women of the Corporation, Change Masters and When Giants Learn to Dance.Q:What inspired you to write Confidence?
A: I was interested in turnarounds—if, when things go downhill, its possible to reverse direction. I saw that turning anything around, from a sick business to a sick marriage, required rebuilding confidence that success was eventually possible. Unless people have hope for a brighter future, it isnt possible to solve problems. They must have confidence in themselves, in other people, in the fairness of the system and in their ability to perform in the future.Q: How does confidence inspire positive outcomes?
A: A great deal of success comes because people feel success is possible. They work harder because they believe that good benefits will come to them. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When people have confidence, especially in people around them, they communicate more; take responsibility for solving problems; reach out and believe in common goals; are generous in helping others; suggest or look for new ways of doing things; and believe their actions make a difference. That makes success possible. Doing the opposite makes failure more likely. Ive seen this in companies, in community organizations, in classrooms—even in countries.Q: But people still need talent to succeed, certainly?
A: Yes, talent is a threshold. You need the minimum to reach this threshold. I may have the talent to write a book, for example, but not to throw a baseball. But talent without having the behavior of a culture of success will not succeed.Q: What have you observed about women and the way they become successful?
A: Women are emerging as leaders in a wide range of sectors because of their people skills, and people skills are critical. For a long time it was assumed that the leader had to be the best at something in order to lead—the best scientist, salesman, whatever. Leaders dont have to be the best at the skill but at helping everyone else perform at the highest level and building their confidence. Women are emerging as leaders in many sectors because of this. In my book, Debbie McCoy, an executive at Continental Airlines, is an example of this. She was a very good pilot, but the reason she is senior vice president of flight operations is not because of that; it has to do with her ability to bring out the best in others.Q: What are the characteristics of leaders of successful companies?
They are self-confident and willing to take risks. But leaders are noted even more for their confidence in other people. Leaders need to be focused on the three cornerstones of leadership: accountability, collaboration and initiative. The best leaders model these in their own behavior and advocate for them. They talk about the three cornerstones and establish formal structures that emphasize them. Here are some tips:
- Show people what it means to respect collaboration and to look for allies, to admit mistakes but to emphasize the positive and discover sources of improvement.
- Set up structures making teamwork possible and reward groups, not just individuals. Give people the tools and resources to take initiative.
- Set up a website to contribute ideas.
In a winning streak, more people behave like leaders, not just the boss.Q:But how does this translate to our daily lives?
A: Leadership is not a title; its a matter of behavior. You can exhibit leadership in whatever sector you are involved in—at work, on a committee in your community or as parents.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter on Raising Confident ChildrenHow would you advise parents who want to raise confident children?
First, focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Coaches of all the winning teams I observed knew how to find the things a person was good at and encourage them to continue developing those things. You need to have areas of confidence.
Second, encourage them to take personal responsibility. Make it easy for them to speak up, to voice concerns, but also to admit mistakes. I talk in the book about humiliation-free zones where people can talk about what really went on, the problems they encountered and mistakes they made without feeling that they will be punished.
Third, keep communication going no matter what. Teens often want to withdraw, but don't get angry, keep communicating.
Fourth, discipline. Insist on high standards. Insist goals are accomplished. This gives kids a sense of responsibility and success.
Fifth, small victories make people feel proud. You don't have to focus on the biggest prize, or only on the elite colleges. Help children find small goals and celebrate achieving each small goal. Small wins lead to large ones. Pick achievable goals such as a clean room today and celebrate when they do it. People's confidence grows when they succeed, which encourages them to stretch the next time.